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Highlands High School squad brings national title home

It was a bittersweet night for Highlands cheer co-captains Stephanie Mazur and Katie Pesci and their senior teammates.

The squad was celebrating their win at a national competition Saturday, but it was the final time the seniors would ever put on their Highlands uniforms.

The Golden Rams cheerleaders performed before the community on Wednesday night in the high school gym, fresh off their first-place showing at the Midwest Cheer & Dance Open Nationals in Sandusky, Ohio.

"I told my mom today -- last time for uniform and makeup," Pesci said.

Last night's brief program was open to the public, but friends and relatives were there too. The girls had a chance to run through their lightning-like, 2 12-minute routine and each girl was introduced to the crowd by head coach Melissa Bernath.

Cheerleading has changed for this generation of young women. Competitive cheer has generated 33-week seasons that start when teams are chosen in tryouts in May. Besides cheering at games for the football and basketball teams, the cheerleaders enter competitions.

The girls practice twice weekly for two hours each and occasionally add a third practice before competitions.

"I don't think the public realizes how much time the girls put into it," Bernath said. "This is done in conjunction with their studies in school. They have to keep their grades up to compete."

The Golden Rams have been busy. They took first place in the Rally in the Valley at Charleroi High School, won the Class AAA state title at Johnstown, first place at the AmeriCheer Challenge at Cornell High School, Coraopolis and beat more than 40 other cheer squads at Canon-McMillan High School, Canonsburg, before heading to Ohio last weekend.

"The girls have two fundraisers per month to cover their own travel expenses," Bernath said.

Being on the squad one year is not a guarantee that a girl will make the team next year.

"You have to try out each year, just like everybody else," Mazur said.

Bernath said the thing she is most proud of is that 24 of the 26 squad members were able to maintain high grades in academic subjects the first semester.

Additional Information:

The champs

The Highlands High School cheerleading squad won a national title last Saturday in Sandusky, Ohio.

Members are:

• Seniors: Stephanie Mazur, co-captain, Katie Pesci, co-captain, Cassandra Boyer, Kelsie Nicastro, Sarah Paz, Taylor Swartz.

• Juniors: Kaylee Bradley, Megan Carter, Megan Lewandroski, Chelsea Litwicki, Elizabeth McKinney, Randi Jo Negley, Jenna Rieger, Brittany Voytko.

• Sophomores: Megan Ehrmentrout, Chelsea Grinchuk, Shannon Josefoski, Jamie Karlo, Kaitlyn Meising, Kristen Stout.

• Freshmen: Anna Barr, Michaela Bonnett, Bailey Clark, Cassie Eckenrod, Marissa Kesecki, Janey Walters.

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